In the face of the New York Knicks fanbase’s strong clamor to replace Elfrid Payton in the starting unit, Tom Thibodeau has stuck with his guns.
Payton repaid Thibodeau’s unwavering trust on Wednesday night as the Knicks avenged their earlier loss to the Chicago Bulls with a 107-103 win in their rematch.
Redemption was the theme of the night for the Knicks.
Payton got out of his slump and aggressively attacked the Bullsâ€™ defense right from the get-go. He unloaded 10 of his 20 points in the opening quarter as the Knicks raced to as big as a 19-point lead.
Julius Randle atoned for his Monday nightâ€™s late-game blunder with 27 points, 11 in that Knicks’ hot start.
Thibodeau made adjustments that forced the Bulls to play catchup for most of the night.
Lauri Markkanen, who torched them with 30 points the other night, was limited to just nine. The Bulls’ outside gunners were silenced. Their 6-for-36 three-point clip was the second-worst performance by a Knicks’ opponent this season.
But it wasn’t an easy win for the Knicks. There were hiccups as the Bulls’ second unit led by Denzel Valentine came alive in the second half.
The Knicks’ 15-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter quickly evaporated. The Bulls came within three on Markkanen dunk, 99-96, with 5:45 left.
But the Knicks weathered the storm.
Reggie Bullock hit a three, then Payton followed it up with his last field goal of the game to quickly restore order.
The Bulls threatened once more on a Zach LaVine three-pointer, 104-99, inside the final 2:37. Randle answered with a fadeaway jumper.
It was enough to fend off the Bull’s comeback attempt and cushioned the impact of another series of misses and errors reminiscent of their late-game collapse last Monday.
Randle added six rebounds, six assists, and two steals in another tour de force.
Payton laced up one of his best games of the season with eight boards and four dimes.
RJ Barrett shot efficiently (8-of-16) to finish with 17 points. Mitchell Robinson regained his starter’s minutes and anchored the Knicks’ defense. He had eight points, 11 rebounds, and two steals in 28 minutes.
Quickley led the second unit with nine quiet points as the night belonged to Payton.
“I think Elfrid is a pro. He has a lot of pride in his game, and more importantly, he has a lot of pride in the team. I think the winning component is important to him, so whatever we asked him to do, he does it unselfishly. He’s always sacrificing for the team. It’s recognized by everyone,” Thibodeau said after the game.
The Knicks improved to 10-13 and stayed within striking distance of the East’s top eight teams.
They will head back to New York for a back-to-back homestand against the Portland Trail Blazers and the Miami Heat this weekend.
Against the Blazers, who beat them during their most recent West Coast trip, redemption will again be the name of the game.
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